A City Is Like an Elephant
By Tina Antolini
Whether by default or design, all of us on the SOTRU team are gradually becoming city experts. With each fresh location we go to, we accumulate new perspectives on how different places are approaching a frequently overlapping set of challenges, be it how to stem a rise in crime or reverse a loss of jobs, halt a wave of foreclosures or repair an urban infrastructure that’s seen better days. What if to solve some of these problems we turned not to the usual handful of urban planners and economic development honchos… but to a group of physicists? If a guy who studies quarks and string theory doesn’t sound like an immediate go-to for the major issues facing our nation’s urban centers, you might be surprised by the work being done by Geoffrey West and the Santa Fe Institute. In research complex enough to completely lose me at certain moments, they’ve determined that cities behave like organisms, or, as Jonah Lehrer puts it in this revelatory article, like… elephants. To learn how a city is like an elephant, and how this group of physicists might be coming up with a new way of understanding the way our urban centers work—and how we should approach the problems they face– give it a read.